We have three public houses in Sturminster Newton (at one time there were 11 in our small market town!) and The Bull Tavern is one of the oldest. The building consists mainly of a 3 roomed 17th Century cottage with an attic room, built of old timber infilled with wattle and daub. Some additions were made in the 18th Century. Records show that the cottage was definitely an alehouse by the late 1700s. Apparently there was a slaughter house at the rear and a Pound where straying animals were kept until collected – upon payment of a fee of 1 shilling (which must have been a fortune when you consider that a married man’s weekly wages at the Town’s Workhouse were all of 9 shillings and a single man’s only 6). Part of the C18th additions was a stable block (which eventually became a skittle alley and later part of the restaurant of the pub). It is rumoured that the horses stabled there were used to help get carriages and carts up the adjoining steep hill leading to Sturminster Common and the small community of Broad Oak.
The building, known to Thomas Hardy (one of our famous inhabitants) as The Old Bull Inn, is shown on the earliest known map of the area dated 1783, as being part of the Pitt-Rivers Estate. You can learn more about the Pitt-Rivers family here: https://www.dorsetlife.co.uk/2012/04/sturminster-newton-and-the-pitt-rivers-family
About 18 months ago, after our then favourite landlords moved from the White Horse Inn in Hinton St Mary, the pub was closed for refurbishment. Hinton is a village about 1.25 miles away, where the Pitt-Rivers manor house is situated. We used to walk there 3 times a week – our exercise with benefits – but since the benefits had disappeared we decided to patronise The Bull – for our exercise of course. The only trouble with that was that it’s uphill on the way home whereas it was down hill from the White Horse.
During that time we had come to enjoy the chats with Marianne and Lance, the Bull’s managers. Lance being the very good chef, and Marianne “Front of House”. Early in January 2021, they announced that on Christmas Day they had got engaged.
One of my felt paintings – commissioned by a mutual friend – had been given to the White Horse landlords as a wedding present a few years ago, and Graham, my husband, suggested that I do something similar as a wedding present for Lance and Marianne.
Although The Bull itself is a very interesting building, I wondered if I should do a picture of an actual bull for them. No date had been set for the wedding at that time, but I thought I should at least start collecting reference pictures, both of the pub itself, including some of their Pub sign and of some animals. I thought about breeds that might have been around in the 16th Century – White Park Cattle and black Gloucesters; and also looked at Herefords since that was the breed on the Pub sign.
In the end I decided on a Hereford bull. After a lot of thought and manipulation of pictures, and also starting on a background field for the bull to stand in, I still could not come up with a layout that I was happy with. One idea was to surround the image of the bull with cameo pictures of nearby local landmarks – the water mill and the mediaeval bridge – with perhaps an image of the pub itself as well.
Then, just after Christmas 2022, Marianne said that they had set the date for the wedding – 10th June 2023. Now I had to get my ideas together and get on with it. The picture would need to be simplified if I was going to get it done and framed in time.
It was about then that my picture of the horse on the hillside in Devon was finished and it occurred to me that I could use a similar method of producing a figure with more depth.
I finally decided upon a cameo type picture of the bull’s head and shoulders and I would use the background which I had made back at the beginning of this saga. I would paint (with wool) the shoulders and neck and outline of the head on to a piece of flat wet felted core fibres. With a separate face and ears, and a further separate set of horns and the nose on another piece. I would cut all of the pieces from the backing when these were substantially finished. I would fix the torso and neck onto the original background and layer on the face and ears, horns and nose, then I would do the final titivating and framing. I made a start and here are the initial progress pictures:
As I said earlier, it was intended that this picture would be a wedding present for Lance and Marianne, but at the beginning of April this year, they told us that, because of various unforeseen difficulties arising out of successive pandemic lockdowns (which included them catching Covid between lockdowns so having to shut the pub again) they had decided to give up the tenancy of the pub. They had obtained a job, with accommodation, managing a Touring Caravan Park in Cornwall. Marianne was leaving almost immediately and Lance would stay on for a couple of weeks, with his last trading day on the 19th April. So the picture was going to have to be a leaving present.
That caused a bit of a panic at home as you can imagine, so I had to get my head down and finish it NOW! These were the final steps;
I managed to finish the picture and, with Graham’s help, I mounted it in a deep box frame in time to hand it over to Lance on the 19th, when we went in for a final lunchtime meal.
So here’s the completed and framed picture – my entry for the 2023 Third Quarter Challenge – Something Special About Our Town.